“So Alive” by Love and Rockets
(Words/Music: Love and Rockets, Album: Love and Rockets, RCA 1989)
At the end of the 80s, this song should have been everything I didn’t like about music. It was just some drums, a bass, some backing vocals, and some pointless words. However, this song mesmerized me. Maybe the first time I heard it I dismissed it, but I could see how it could have grown on me because it was what I can only refer to as potential energy. So little happens in this song for so long, that something must be coming up, even if it’s only a simple break in the rhythm. I also think I liked this song because it sounded a lot like Billy Idol’s Whiplash Smile and looking back on that, I think it’s main feature was its sparseness of instrumentation and simplicity of melody and lyrics. I believe at this point I began to understand the importance of juxtaposition in music (but couldn’t describe it) and that sometimes you needed to have something simple and repetitive for the crashing cymbal, guitar chord, or rhythmic break to stand out and sound that much bigger. Some of the more obvious examples of this are when the drums come in to “In the Air Tonight” or “Stairway To Heaven” or the electric guitar in Billy Idol’s “To Be a Lover” or R.E.M.’s “Drive.” Because they come in so late and because they come into an otherwise mellow song, they sound much more impressive and intrusive than they actually are. What I was learning and beginning to appreciate at that point was that a musician didn’t need to be playing the entire time to sound great and, to paraphrase a common saying about jazz, it’s not what you play, but what you don’t play. Put simply, some songs need space to be successful instead of a constant barrage of sound and that’s a strategy that Love and Rockets perfected.